A little more to the left or right and it would have been a much different story.
Though the USF women’s soccer team advanced to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in program history — losing in the first round at home to Illinois State — it was a defeat in penalty kicks at the hands of UConn in the AAC tournament championship game that is still hard for the Bulls to shake.
Despite a multitude of opportunities in regulation, including a shot in the 21st minute by junior Leticia Skeete that clanked off the post, USF found itself in overtime and — eventually — penalty kicks against the Huskies.
Trailing 3-2 in the session, and needing a goal to keep their title hopes alive, the Bulls faltered as UConn keeper Emily Armstrong made the diving save on senior Olivia Chance.
Nine months later, the pain of that loss is still a sore spot for coach Denise Schilte-Brown’s group.
“I’ve spoken to them many times about how they felt,” Schilte-Brown said. “I mean, it does not feel good the way that we lost — our home field, PKs. It couldn’t have been a better set up for us to win.
“But I think in both occasions — both the conference championship and the NCAAs — we really believed that we were going to win and we took it slightly for granted whether we want to believe it or not.”
USF won’t let that happen again this year, Schilte-Brown said.
The Bulls return 20 players to this year’s seasoned group — including Chance (team-high nine goals) and sophomore keeper Kat Elliott (0.95 goals against average, 39 saves) — but will have to replace graduated forward Demi Stokes, who earned second-team all-AAC honors after registering 12 points in 2014.
Schilte-Brown expects junior Jordyn Listro (15 shots in 21 games) to help cushion the blow from Stokes’ departure, wants to capitalize on Listro’s abilities rather than compare her to Stokes.
“I don’t think you ever lose a great player and try to fill that great player’s spot with something the same,” Schilte-Brown said. “You try to put in a new player and bring out the best of them.”
Starting with Friday’s opener against Long Island University-Brooklyn in the USF Tournament, the Bulls hope to be ready for anything that comes their way — even penalty kicks.
“I think what we’ve learned, is that you’ve never won the game until the ball has gone in the back of the net,” Schilte-Brown said. “It doesn’t matter who you play. It doesn’t matter if it’s on your home field.
“Every day you have to show up and you have to put the ball in the back of the net. … What matters is the scoreboard and the girls need to keep a focus on that, and we as a staff have to hold them accountable for what happens.”